Halleck Vineyard: Discover the First Sebastopol Winery

Halleck Vineyard Sebastopol Winery © Mark Wegner
The art of giving is part of the intrigue for Halleck Vineyard because philanthropy and outstanding wine go together in Ross Halleck’s mind. There is more to the story of Halleck Vineyard as they develop a community through wine, making this small Sebastopol winery a gem of discovery as you become part of Halleck Vineyard inner circle in more ways than one.

The Halleck’s Sebastopol Winery

Ross and Jennifer Halleck’s venture into wine came by chance. Ross owned a branding agency located in Palo Alto. Several of his clients were wineries, so he spent time in Napa and Sonoma, where his love of wine grew.

In 1990, Ross decided to live in wine country and commute to work. He found a 5-acre property in Sebastopol that became his home. On a whim, he chose to grow grapes and, with no experience, call it hit and miss or the luck of the draw. Looking at it today, it was all hit and no miss.

Ross loved Pinot Noir, so looking in the yellow pages, they met John Caldwell, who turned them onto the Pinot Noir Dijon clones. They later ordered 667, 777, and 115 and planted them on one acre of their property in 1993.

By 1999 Halleck became the first Sebastopol winery. Ross says “divine intervention” came into play, bringing them success at becoming the winery they are today. Although Ross and Jennifer are no longer married, they own the winery together, working closely together on every aspect of this endeavor.

The Sebastopol winery project started as a means to put their three boys through college. The winery became more than a school fund for both Ross and Jennifer. It is now a substantial part of their life through the community they developed with their Halleck Inner Circle, which is more than your typical wine Club, and their philanthropic projects based around their wine and travel events.

Ross describes himself as a new-world winemaker with an old-world style. One finds this to be absolutely true.

Halleck Family
Halleck Family. Photo Courtesy Halleck Vineyard

Halleck Winemaker

Since 2005 Rick Davis has been the winemaker at Halleck Vineyards. His specialty is cool-climate varietals, so he is a natural with Pinot Noir, the main focus of Halleck Vineyard. Ross and Rick met when Rick worked with Greg Lafollette on the production of Tandem Halleck Vineyard Pinot Noir, a wine that won the Pinot Noir Summit in 2002 and put Halleck Vineyard on the map. It soon gave Rick an opportunity to join the Halleck team’s Sebastopol winery.

Halleck Vineyard Brand

The branding and the Halleck logo has a double meaning as it tells the story of this Sebastopol winery and its philosophy. The H not only stands for Halleck, but it also depicts two Roman numerals. In Ross and Jennifer’s eyes, they represent one to one, the experience you will discover when visiting Halleck Vineyard.

Sharing the wine experience and making a personal connection is the ultimate goal at Halleck. The Halleck’s create these connections through tastings in their home, wine travel, or sharing meals with their Halleck Vineyard Inner Circle members.

The dot in the middle of the H signifies the grape. Grapes have been around for civilizations and played a role both spiritually and in religion. The grape builds a wine community, connects us in conversation, and brings joy to our lives, especially at celebrations as we toast special occasions.

Finally, the circle around the H represents the Halleck community and Ross and Jennifer’s mission. That purpose is “Building a community through wine.” Tying the community together is the philanthropic aspect of giving back to the community by supporting the Halleck Vineyard Inner Circle members’ charities.

Ross tells us to think of building a community as a “three-legged stool.” One leg is bringing people into their home to taste wine. The second is the sharing of experiences, and the third, giving back. The stool is another form of the Halleck logo with the H, dot, and the circle, symbolizing a part of the stool.

Halleck Vineyard Corks @ Jennifer Girard
Corks with Halleck Vineyard Branding. Photo Courtesy of Jennifer Girard

Halleck Vineyard and Find Your Light

I discovered Halleck wines when I covered a charity virtual tasting with Josh Groban. This zoom event was not just your ordinary wine tasting event with a celebrity. Josh has an interest in wine and, like Ross, has a philanthropic side, which promotes arts education, especially when it comes to his foundation, Find Your Light. Together with Halleck Vineyard, Josh and Ross created a wine, which goes to Find Your Light, supporting arts education for children across the United States.

The story started when Josh Groban had a bottle of the Halleck Pinot Noir at a New York City restaurant. He contacted Ross shortly after. Ross almost opted out because he did not want to make wine for a celebrity, but when Josh mentioned the wine was for a charity, Ross was all ears, and the rest is history.

Both Ross and Josh pour their hearts into creating this wine for the Find Your Light cause. Each sip of the Find Your Light Pinot Noir expresses this fact.

The 2016 Find Your Light Pinot Noir blends grapes from the Farm and Haas Vineyard. I found a bright and lively, balanced, medium-bodied Pinot Noir. Flavors of cherry, anise, vanilla, and hints of spice fill your palate.

Although I did not sample the 2017, Ross and Josh describe this wine as earthier with Burgundy’s aromas. The descriptions show the difference a year can make utilizing fruit from the same vineyards.

Halleck Vineyard Find Your Light Pinot Noir
Halleck Vineyard Find Your Light Pinot Noir

Halleck Vineyard Gewürztraminer

This wine is one of the top sellers at Halleck. You don’t think of a winery that specializes in Pinot Noir making a Gewürztraminer. An adventure and story lie behind this wine. Ross lived in Kenya when he was in his twenties.

At the time, Indian food was not popular in the United States, but there was a significant population of people from India in Kenya. There were quite a few places to eat Indian food. In Kenya, Ross discovered Indian food. The cuisine includes chutneys and curry. The perfect pairing with these dishes is Gewürztraminer.

When Ross came back to the states, he learned to cook Indian food. He wanted wine to pair with this food; hence he started to produce Gewürztraminer. Ross says this is his fastest-selling wine at Thanksgiving because pairing the wine with cranberry sauce and turkey is ideal.

2019 Calandrelli Dry Gewürztraminer, Russian River Valley: Find a wonderfully dry Gewürztraminer with floral aromas and notes of ripe fruits. On the palate, the wine delivered flavors of honeysuckle and ginger spices.

Ross Halleck at his Sebastopol winery with Halleck Vineyard Pinot Noir. Photo Courtesy Stephanie Culen

Halleck Vineyard Not Your Mother’s Dry White Zinfandel

Ross was not particularly a lover of Rosé made in the United States, but his Inner Circle members wanted a summerish wine, Rosé. When he discovered the Rosé of Provence, he decided to create a wine that both he and his club members would like. Halleck’s Rosé is unique for the aspirations of being a French Rosé, although it is created using the non-traditional grape, Zinfandel.

This Rosé, vintage 2019, is fully fermented from Zinfandel grapes. I found a dry Rosé with floral notes. The wine displays hints of strawberry, Cherry, and apricots on the palate.

Halleck Vineyards Pinot Noir

Both Pinot Noirs reviewed aged for ten months with racking at five months during blending in 30% New, 30% one-year-old, and 40% older French oak.

2017 Three Sons Cuvee Pinot Noir: Considered Halleck’s entry-level, flagship Pinot Noir, the wine pays tribute to Ross and Jennifer’s three sons, Connor, Adam, and Quinn. The wine is a perfect example of a Russian River Pinot Noir. The wine exhibits flavors of dark cherry accented with clove, cinnamon, and light black pepper.

2017 Hillside Cuvee Pinot Noir: This wine is Halleck’s Sonoma Coast blend and the counterpart to the Three Sons Cuvee. The wine displays a more earthy and serious expression because of its complexity. Exhibiting redder fruit, this wine brings forth flavors of cranberry accented by spicy notes of white pepper.

Halleck Vineyard Wines
Sebastopol Winery Halleck Vineyard Wines

Unfortunately, due to the fires in Sonoma and Napa, Halleck will not produce the 2020 vintage. After 19 years of outstanding wine, Ross felt that they did not want their 20th year to be substandard. You can still purchase wine from Halleck and be a part of the Halleck Vineyard Inner Circle because, knowing Ross, there is something stashed away for his club members.

Halleck Vineyard Sebastopol Winery Dog Franki
Halleck Vineyard Sebastopol Winery Ambassador Franki. Photo Courtesy of Halleck Vineyard

Common to the wine industry, this writer received hosted wine samples. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure.